Saturday, August 26, 2017

The anthology "The Realm of the Impossible"

Two days ago, was released in the US an anthology - curated by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin -  I collaborated  with a my locked room  story.
The anthology  “The Realm of the Impossible” contains only stories with Impossible Murders or Locked Rooms  .  I’m here with the De of my surname transformed into the noble prefix de: another act of kindness overseas?  Anyway, I’m that Pietro de Palma, author of The Barese Mystery.
The story that was chosen in the context of a rose I provided on request, had as a prerequisite not to be too long: it had to contain the elements of folklore or landscaping so as to identify a certain place of a certain nation. The Barese Mystery, of course, speaks about  an impossible crime with Locked Room in Bari (the italian city where is the great St. Nicholas Church and his grave).

I had to turn my long story, about forty pages, which had a fantastic and rational double ending, "as Carr," written in the days when Igor Longo – a great student of locked rooms - and I had intense friendships: I remember he liked it very much, and said that it was involved in such works by H. Resnicow or K. Wilhelm. Then I had to translate it into English.  
Thank John and Brian for choosing me.  
In Italy a lot of my stories have been published, as on web as on paper: almost every story has Locked Room  or Impossible Murder. Who reads my articles knows the writer I like very much is J.D.Carr.
The biggest surprise I received this morning when John sent me the list of other authors, was to be with P. Halter, U. Durling, E. Hoch, S. Shimada, C. Brand, M.D. Post, F.W. Crofts, E. Peters, the only Italian to be chosen. I must say in all honesty that the thing has made me a huge pleasure. If had been J.D.Carr, I would be in heaven.

Pietro De Palma

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hake Talbot : Rim of the Pit, 1944

Henning Nelms was born in Baltimore in 1900. He taught dramatic Literature at Middlebury College and Pennsylvania State University, and conducted several theaters. He did several jobs, including the profession of lawyer, a family profession, since his father had also been (as a shepherd of the Episcopal Church); But he had also done the sailor, the editor, the accountant, the director of an advertising agency, the prestigious. With his true name he signed books about theater, drawing, and a handbook of illusion and prestige.
Similar to Clayton Rawson, he wanted to try to write mystery novels in which he transfigured his illusionist knowledge, and with the pseudonym Hake Talbot he signed two great classics of the mystery: The Hangman's Handyman (1942) and Rim of the Pit (1944); as well as two short stories: The Other Side (1940) and The High House (1948).
Rim of the Pit has always enjoyed a certain fame: it has been (and still it is today) praised or attacked. Talbot wrote a novel that had to astonish: it is understood from the beginning:

Dead of Winter

There are dead people who are mistaken for living beings.
- ELIPHAS LÉVI, Dogme de la Haute Magie

"I came up here to make a dead man change his mind."

In short, a bumpy entry!
It begins with that "I came up here to make a dead man change his mind", that expresses already a lot and already introduces one of the subjects of the work, the windigo, the evil spirit. In fact, in the phrase " I came up here to make a dead man change his mind " (expression recalled by Carr in his famous praise, which he formulated when Talbot's novel came out in the types of Bentam: "From the first period: I came here to induce a A dead ghost comes back ... or maybe he does not come back at all. A flying ghost drops apparently as he hits and goes to the attack. No angels, but demons and sorcerers seem to be dead. Dancing on the tip of this needle ... The edge of the abyss is a magnificence "), the adverb" up "can be understood with reference to two things: referring to the place of the spiritual sitting, that is a cabin in the mountains , And / or referred to a place anyway higher than that in which it resides.  Grimaud Désanat, if it is an evil spirit, he will dwell in hell. Moreover, his evil indole is also witnessed by the name Talbot furiously gives him: in fact, in Grimaud Désanat, the beginning of the word Grimaud, "Grim", is the same as Grimorium (black magic book), and moreover the adjective "Grim" in English may mean "horrible", "left", "hateful", "fierce", "macabre"; while Désanat can be understood as a sciarada, formed by the union of two words: De and Sanat, then Satan's anagram, Satan. So .. "Grimaud of Satan or Grimaud from Satan". But ... Grimaud is not quite a Talbotian name, but invented by Carr: it is the surname of that Charles that appears in Carr's Hollow Man. Another connection with the great John?
Rogan Kincaid is a gambler with a lively and adventurous life behind him, who suddenly, when needed, is a detective. Landlord of vast mountains, covered with trees, Grimaud Désanat is dead. Luke Latham, a wealthy sawmill owner, would like to convince Grimaud's widow to sell the forests, but she is reluctant to do so, interpreting the will of her husband who has left them. But Latham does not deny and obsessively tries the widow, as long as she agrees to initiate a spiritual session, in which she will play the part of the medium, having specific powers. Some people will be attending the session, including Rogan, Latham, Ogden, Latham's partner, and a Czechoslovakian magician, Svetozar Vok, who should unveil the tricks of the medium.
The spiritual session begins, and at some point the voice of the medium changes, taking a different pitch from her and assuming a male timbre; then immediately after, happens the apparition of a malignant face suspended in the middle of the air, so malignant to horror the present:  is Grimaud Désanat, who curses his wife for changing his wills.
Immediately afterwards, in the horror of the onlookers, the spectrum vanishes seeking refuge at the top floor. Meanwhile, the widow-medium faints and if anyone had some pretense or a supposition that it was a trick, he must recur as there is no trace on fresh snow that can prove the existence that someone not known else has arrived in the meantime, not seen, in the cabin. Meanwhile, however, Vok reveals some of the tricks practiced by charlatans and fake mediums.
At this point, the impossible happens: the medium is killed in her room by the windigo, the evil spirit in which Désanat has turned, and no trace is found on the snow covering the window sill. Subsequently, there will be a second murder, this time outside, without any traces found, and Ogden, Letham's partner, will die. In the end Rogan Kincaid will solve the arcane, demonstrating the murder was not supernatural but human.
In America, the novel was originally published in paperback on the Pulp Magazine "Thrilling Mystery Novel" in the 40s, then in the Bantam Paperbacks in 1965 (as part of "The World's Great Novels of Detection" series chosen by Anthony Boucher), and in the 80's, always in paperback, by International Polygonics, Ltd. In recent times, also republished by Ramble House.
Certainly a lot of the fame, derived from the enthusiastic judgment expressed by Carr:
“From the very first sentence, I came up here to make a dead man change his mind, we are into the realm of nightmare: Miracles gather and explode. A dead man returns – or does not return. A flying ghost, apparently, swoops down and attacks. No angels, but goblins and wizards seem to dance on the point of this needle. But gently: have patience! Everything is explained on natural grounds, un a marvel of ingenuity; and all the clues are there…Rim of the Pit is a beauty. Don’t argue with it; read it”

Now, that Carr was convinced about the absolute goodness of the work, and with him those who embraced his argument, it is not in question; It may be to see if in fact the novel merited  entirely the fame  .
I’m somewhat disappointed (I think it was understood) maybe because I had been excited by Talbot's other novel, written before this. Of course I'm aware that I'm so against all the series of enthusiastic judgments that you can read here and there, but I do not care to be
an out of line opinion. So ..

First of all, nothing can be said about the aspirations of this novel: it tries the difficult way of the nystery novel that goes hand in hand with the supernatural one, as J.D.Carr had already done with superb results in The Burning Court and Melville Davisson Post in several stories. In fact, in the intentions of Talbot, until the last, one should not be understood whether the crimes were committed by supernatural beings or in flesh and bone; and even this is widespread everywhere in all websites.
I must say, in truth, that all that concerns illusionistic magic (phantom appearance, tricks, and anything else) is treated with mastery, and some peregrine thinking if and how the ghost may have appeared, peeps, I admit . And how the crime could have happened, given the restrictions imposed, typical of novels like this (intact snow, absence of footprints, etc.). So nothing to say about that.
I disagree about the axiom for which the Talbot novel was written by taking as an example Carr. It does not seem to me that Rim of the Pit can only remember Carr: at the same level of novelists, it seems to me that much more of Talbot's carriageway, for example Alan Green. In spite of some aspects that actually exist in the novel, Hake Talbot seems to me much closer to Clayton Rawson, as more than anything else tries to focus on the quality of the enigma: a novel I would ideally associate with this could be No Coffin for the Corpse by Clayton Rawson, in which there is an impossible disappearance and an equally emblematic appearance. And as I say this, it would seem to me that another novel that could have been taken, for example, could have been the Winslow & Quirk Into Thin Air, reviewed in this space some years  ago.

The fact is that it seems to me (where instead others don’t think this ...) that this novel has an inadequate atmosphere: it is frosty, claustrophobic yes certainly like the environment in which it is placed (and some American critics rightly refer to The Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson (also the one reviewed here), but it can not captivate in the manner we would think; this judgment I have compared to that of other friends who read it, and many among them think the same thing : it's also a matter of style. In addition, and this in my opinion is a further limitation, if not even a wrong choice, Talbot inserted at the beginning of each chapter a quotation from magic books, treats, or anything else: this escamotage ends up removing any residue of supposed supernatural truth, since the continuous recurrence of something related to the atmosphere that one would like to create ends up to make sure that of supernatural there is nothing (the reader who buys the novel knows it is a human crime, but at least during the novel he would like to be carried on the wings of fantasy elsewhere; instead ..).
In addition, when Rogan Kincaid unmasks the assassin saying that the gun that had shot blancks to Windigo, and the silver bullet that had been found in Ogden's deadly wound, had been Kinkaid to put it in the wound when he Had pretended to extract it, and that Ogden had not been killed by a bullet but by a stab and accuses X of having killed him, he doesn’t believe as Carr, to provide a clear and acceptable explanation of the crimes, that instead remains cumbersome and unresolved, to testify that not always, climbing on the mirrors, you can then climb them. In short what in a much more specialized environment than mine, others say: "The actual impossible murders (there are two) are well set up but less convincingly resolved, though they're certainly original. In my opinion it's very good, but not great."

In this he differs even from Rawson, who, as is well-known, has never been too much praised for the style of writing or for the atmosphere, but essentially for the quality of the puzzles he was able to create, being able to explain them In the best possible way, despite some of them, for example Death from a Top Hat are remembered like some of the most complicated puzzles ever conceived, often very close to pure illusionism. Then, if someone looks  for other things, like locked rooms, and the same mechanisms used by Carr to mislead the reader (in The Hollow Man), here he is going to observe them. Only the judgment expressed by so many critics and novelists, that is, in their list of the best Locked Rooms overall, this novel by Talbot was the second after The Hollow Man by Carr , it seems to me a bit unbalanced (and heavily influenced, from the positive opinion, expressed by Carr).

Pietro De Palma

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hake Talbot : The Other Side, 1990 (published posthumous)

This is an analysis about the tricks of the Locked Room at The Other Side by Hake Talbot. Who didn't read the short story, postpones the reading of this article after the reading of the short story

Some Anglo-Saxon critics overlook Hake Talbot, in my opinion. The reason is that they are based on Carr's critical judgment, which he passionately lauded Rim of the Pit. But Carr praised above all the scenic invention and the atmosphere. You should then analyze the plot properly and how it has been done and resolved if you want to give the masterpiece palm to that novel. Mike Grost, whom I really admire for his divulgatory work and for his omnivorous knowledge, said: "Talbot is the only Carr imitator whose work could actually be preferred to that of Carr himself ... I hope it is clear .. .that while Talbot was influenced by Carr's approach, he in all cases showed plenty of personal creativity. "
I do not quite agree with that opinion. I was extinct it years  ago when I analyzed Rim of the Pit. I'm not gonna repeat myself. Who wants to know my judgment can compare it with his reading my old article in italian (soon it will be published in english) :
I still think Talbot's best work is not Rim of the Pit but The Hangman's Handyman:
The limits of Hake Talbot in making a perfect plot can also be highlighted in The Other Side. It’s one of two short stories by Hake Halbot. Really Halbot wrote a  lot of short stories, now lost, unless someone finds them in some loft of Arlington, as wrote Bob Adey in the notes relating to the short story, included into the anthology “Murder Impossible”. Indeed the short story was published posthumous in that anthology. The other short story is The High House, yet to be published in Italy. The Other Side has been published together Rim of the Pit, by Ramble House, a few years ago.

The characters are those already seen in Rim of the Pit, that is, the player Roger Kinkaid, and the illusionist Svetozar Vok.
This time, they are committed to expose the head of a sect, the Hungarian Ergon, who has gained considerable power on Imogen Lathrop, guardian of the age of sixteen, and therefore still underage, Daphne Lathrop, daughter of a brother of Imogen who died prematurely and thanks to this influence, is trying to acquire protection for the girl in order to be able to administer the great fortune. However, his plan is opposed by the two brothers of Imogen, Colonel Boyd Lathrop, and Major Clifford Lathrop. The older between two brothers, Boyd, has casually encountered Kincaid, who has already known in the past, and asks for help in eradicating Ergon. So he leads him to his home, and here Kincaid also does Ergon's knowledge, as he lives in the apartment adjacent to that of the two brothers and girl. Just before Kincaid, there is another clash between Ergon and the two brothers: Ergon wants to stay alone with the two, then there is a continuation of  clash between them, followed by the pronouncement of an obscure threat, which in essence is a Mortal curse, against Boyd reo of challenging the one who is protected by the powers of the Last Man.
While the atmosphere is overheated, and Boyd is disturbed by the threat of death addressed by Ergon, the irreparable thing happens: with the excuse to go into the living room, where there is the fireplace and a collection of shooting weapons, of which the two are fanatical, trying a gun, it happens that Boyd seems to have turned against himself one pistol, since a second after he left the room where his brother and Kincaid are, they  feel the gunshot and Rogan just walked through the door of the room, sees Boyd Lathrop falling dead, mortally wounded by a bullet, over his right eye.
There is no one in the room, the windows are closed from the inside, and there is no opening other than the one through which Kincaid was attracted by the shot; and the fact that he just arrived in time to see Boyd's lifeless body sink on the ground means that no one else had the chance to kill the colonel and get out of there, “vanishing into thin air” by force.
The gun is found under a couch. It is left there waiting for the science police and Lieutenant Nichols, who is acquainted with Kinkaid, to arrive. When it is examined, only the footprints of the colonel are found, and it turns out that it is exactly the weapon used to kill.
At this point it would seem that only the hypothesis of suicide stands: the gun has only handled he, it is the gun that fired, there was no other in the room, the door was just the one through which it had passed He and Kincaid, and the windows were barred.
In conclusion…
But the brother of the victim does not look back: there was no reason for his brother to commit suicide; end then why? Rather ... he may have been induced to kill himself. And how? Through the singing that everyone heard speak by Ergon, just minutes before the tragedy. Then someone thinks that induction to killing himself was possible through another form of instigation to murder: hypnotism.
In short Kincaid calls on his friend Svetozar Vok to help him find out how Ergon has killed the colonel without leaving any trace of himself.
Vok arrives and elaborates a plan to surprise the Hungarian. He is Czech but the Hungarian idiom knows him: he will try to force him to betray himself. What's happening. The next attempt to kill Vok will prove his guilt.
Let's say immediately that the Locked Room is really like this: there is not someone who helps Ergon like it happens other times and nor there are tricks about time, and it could not be because Kincaid when he comes to the momentum In the room from where he heard the shotgun, he does not see the steaming gun (in that case various might be the tricks to make that happens it) but the body that falls lighted up: so there is no time to put a trick; if anything it’s (and there’s), it has already been put into practice. Rather there was a staging before the killing, which is not directly related to killing but instead has a different task: to suggest that there has been a suicide or in any case that Ergon through a curse or hypnotic intimation launched from the adjacent apartment Lerd Ferbeh maghaad, "you're gonna blow your brains," he managed to make the colonnel kill himself.
In reality, the trick was another and in this is the touch of Talbot's genius: since the two apartments, the one occupied by the Lathrop brothers and the other by the Hungarian magician, are identical and adjacent and also have the same accessories, that is, a fireplace per side , With the common side and the chimney in common, could be hidden a secret door in the interior masonry of the chimney (as in Indiana Jones and the last crusade) . Instead, the fireplace has nothing to do, and furthermore, having been fire and ashes, if anyone had passed, since there was no material time to clean up - shot, death, staging Kincaid - would remain the trace of dust on the floor. No. The trick is another, more brilliant: on the side of the fireplace, in both apartments, there are lampholders fixed at the same point: leaving a hole in the wall to the side, basically, being the dividing walls, slender, between the two apartments, so that Ergon's curse is heard, it was enough to break through that little masonry, to have a connecting hole: through this the gun barrel was introduced, and when the high colonel bent to practice with a gun contained In the cassette next to the fireplace, was centered at the front by a shotgun shot almost as burning.
Told so, the story would be a must. But, it does not seem to me. I mean.
When I analyzed Rim of the Pit, I said, "Talbot  does not seem to be able to give a clear and acceptable explanation of the crimes, which remain cumbersome and unresolved, to testify that not always, climbing on the mirrors, you can climb them up".  So what in a much more specialized environment than mine, others say: "The actual impossible murders (there are two) are well set up but less convincingly resolved, though they're certainly original. In my opinion it's very good, but not great. "
I said it on that occasion, I repeat it now: Talbot is great in the mis-en-scene, creates a great trick and is also capable of attempting a diversified action by believing suicide, and in this case can also create an atmosphere tangible such that until very shortly before the end, one really thinks of the clash between two psychically strong entities: Vok and Ergon. When Vok, with Kincaid and some policemen including Nichols, comes into Ergon's apartment, and there, psychically, the two, the Czech and the Hungarian, face it, the scene is highly characterizing and the reader keeps the breath suspended and until lastly, he thinks that Ergon was in turn hypnotized by Vok and forced to self-test. But the story is weak in the face of the resolution of the problem: in other words, Talbot, when he created the plot and created a spectacular trick that explains the arcane, then he can not take all the advantage he would want because it is somewhat disadvantaged . I locate the plot flaws in:
Gun replacement: I told  a gun was found beneath the edge of the couch. As it turns out, it will be exemplified in the final explanation: Ergon took possession of two guns, and when he appeared for the first time in front of Kincaid and asked to stay alone, leading to the large sleeve of the wig wearing a gun , he managed to drop her near the couch. Now, dropping something standing, it can also be done hoping that no noise will be produced drawing attention or even produce a noise equal to distracting the noise. But then it was necessary - by force - to replace this gun, used already and with the imprints of the two brothers, with the other, the one that fired. And how did Ergon do it?  Of this second entry, no exemplification is given.

Major Boyd's ignorance: is it possible that after the death of his brother, the Major did not control the weapons he and his brother used to and did not notice that another gun was missing from the box?  Unlikely
But above all the hole in the wall: because death was possible, it was necessary not only that Ergon removed the support of the lamp holder from his apartment, but also that of the adjacent apartment, otherwise the gun shot would blow up the lamp holder of the 'Two brothers' apartment and not Boyd Lathrop's brain. But then, you should automatically assume that the support from the room of the two had been previously removed to execute the assassination. In this case, one should ask why the two brothers have not noticed the bulb removed from the wall of their apartment. But also if the support of the lamp holder was in place in the wall, masking the hole, and only a moment before Ergon's murder, he pushed it across the board, dropping it and releasing the hole, how could he ever get rid of the hole after shot? That's the point. Because after the death of Boyd Lathrop, while recognizing Kincaid's subtle deductive psychology in the other part of the book - by it he can see and explain what others do not see or don’texplain - when he entered the room and saw the poor Lathrop falling down, did not see any hole in the wall; And after a moment, Clifford entered the room, and he did not even notice a hole in the wall and the absence of a lamp holder? Moreover, there is also a direct consequence of this in the final clash between Vok and Ergon: what was the end of a clash between Vok and Ergon if the method of killing without entering the apartment was already clear before?
Finally there is the above-mentioned psychic confrontation between Vok and Ergon:
That thing I don’t  understand is what this psychic confrontation is and which purpose it has, if the purpose is not hypnotizing. Theoretically, Vok psychically clashes with Ergon for obtain some proof, that would otherwise be futile: but what evidence is it, if talks Vok and not Ergon, if Vok explains what Ergon did? Moreover Vok says Kincaid had already understood everything, but it needed a representation to induce such a strong personality, capable of subjugating, to be subjugated. However, this statement is also defective: how  Kincaid did understand everything, if they entered Ergon's apartment immediately before the psychic confrontation, and only then they realize that the two apartments are mirrored and furnished with the same accessories, except for the Furniture that there is not but a rough mat on the floor?
That's because I say that, like Rim of the Pit, this story does not solve all that is included: this is Talbot's big limit, which can not take into account all that he thinks. It's like writing his own works without taking into account the expectations that everything he had written would have generated. He Does not waste - in other words - of too much imagination not being mitigated by rationality: how does he ignore the hole in the wall? And how can not you think that Kincaid is spitting for a fine brain, just in the event of the discovery of the corpse, does not he notice it, and the missing brother does not realize it neither? It is quite unlikely.
Although I have to admit that the trick to shoot through a hole in the wall, masked by two appliques,it is brilliant: however, it is in a way a variation of the solution of a famous Carr Locked Room, The Judas Window, in turn varied many years after by Randal Garrett in Too Many Magicians. Talbot is clearly a debtor to Carr: he creates great atmospheres, and here the atmosphere is frankly the best; And he creates “great” locked rooms, and in it he is Carr's debtor securely. But while Carr explains everything, and everything has a rational explanation, Talbot can not explain everything that he puts in his works. There are not many suspects as well as in Carr's stories: only that there really are necessary the flames and counterfeits to explain the arcane there.

Pietro De Palma